A Brooklyn-based gang was arrested on Thursday for their alleged roles in obtaining unemployment benefits in a fraud scheme.
Brooklyn residents Kennith Desir, 20; Stephan Dorminvil, 21; Kai Heyward, 22; Keith James, 20; Oneal Marks, 20; Jahriah Olivierre, 22; Christopher Jean Pierre, 21; Roleeke Smith, 20; and Christopher Topey, 21, as well as California resident Romean Brown, 23, and Florida resident Tyrek Clarke, 21, were charged with conspiracy to commit access device fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to obtain millions of dollars in unemployment insurance benefits funded, in whole or in part, by COVID-19 pandemic assistance programs.
Eight of the defendants are set to be arraigned before the federal court in Brooklyn on Feb. 17. Heyward was arrested in Delaware and will make his initial appearance in federal court in Wilmington, while Brown was arrested in California and will make his initial appearance in Los Angeles. Olivierre remains at large.
“As alleged, the defendants conspired to steal millions of dollars in pandemicrelated unemployment assistance and then brazenly flaunted the proceeds of their crimes on social media,” stated United States Attorney Breon Peace. “These government programs are designed to provide financial assistance to those who are most in need during an unprecedented pandemic. This Office and its law enforcement partners will vigorously prosecute gang members and anyone else who exploits the pandemic and steals from taxpayer-funded programs.’
According to the criminal complaint, the defendants are alleged members or associates of the Brooklyn-based Woo gang. Between March 2020 and October 2021, the defendants allegedly used the personally identifiable information of more than 800 victims to submit nearly 1,000 claims to the New York State Department of Labor for unemployment insurance benefits. The benefits were funded in part or whole by COVID-19 assistance programs. It is alleged that the defendants obtained $4.3 million in unemployment insurance after having filed for approximately $20 million in benefits.
The complaint alleges that during this same time period, the defendants posted photos on social media of themselves standing in front of luxury vehicles and holding stacks of United States currency. Some of the suspects allegedly appeared in a music video entitled “Trappin,” which was posted to YouTube on May 8, 2021. The song’s lyrics include the line “Unemployment got us workin’ a lot,” an alleged reference to the defendants’ fraudulent scheme.
“The Unemployment Insurance Program exists to provide needed assistance to qualified individuals who are unemployed due to no fault of their own. Fraud against the Unemployment Insurance Program distracts state workforce agencies, like the New York State Department of Labor, from ensuring benefits go to individuals who are eligible to receive them. The Office of Inspector General will continue to work closely with our many law enforcement partners, to investigate those who exploit the Unemployment Insurance Program,” stated DOLOIG Special Agent-in-Charge Jonathan Mellone.